If you're anything like me, you’ve had a few bumps in the road along your fitness journey. When I first injured my lower back, and I felt my daily life impacted by pain and discomfort, I realized it was time to re-evaluate my view on fitness.
The thing is, staying in shape doesn’t just have to be about shedding those 10 extra pounds, liking your reflection in the mirror, or building stamina to run that extra mile. Staying fit can be about strengthening your body against injuries and pain.
These 8 cable back workouts will help you do exactly that. Add these exercises into any workout routine to bulletproof your back against injury while simultaneously building mad muscle!
Can Cable Back Workouts Protect My Back From Injury?
Most people’s workout routines focus on arm days and leg days while back exercises themselves can often take the backseat. If you’re concerned about back injury or maybe even dealing with one, it might be time to reprioritize.
With 80% of adults experiencing back pain during their lifetime, adding some back exercises into your routine only makes sense . Whether you’re experiencing back discomfort from an injury, bad posture, stress, or other factors, adding in physical activity focused on your back can fortify you against injuries.
Don’t get me wrong, you’ll probably still experience some back pain in your life, but as with any muscle, the stronger it is, the less likely it is to become strained under exertion or stress. That means more freedom for you to wrestle with your kids, play pickleball, or any other physical activity you’d normally do—and less fear about tweaking your back with the slightest wrong movement.
Cable Back Workouts vs. Dumbbell and Barbell Training
Since my back injury, both of my personal trainers have tried to add in dumbbell and barbell exercises like bent-over rows and T-bar rows into my routine. Every time, my back responded with a loud and clear “No!” to that situation.
While dumbbell and barbell exercises, such as rows, are often a popular choice for gym junkies, the tendency can be to put a strain on the back because of the leaned-over stance of these positions. If you still want to build a sculpted back and barbell rows just aren’t working for you, cable back workouts might be the solution!
Of course, injury is a possibility with any exercise if not done with proper form, including back exercises on cable machines. But with proper form (and help from professional fitness trainers!), cable back workouts can be just as effective at building back muscle. For me, they’ve been a powerful substitute. Here are some advantages:
Cable Back Workouts Give You Extra Tension
Gravity works for and against you when you use dumbbells and barbells. Think about it: when you lift that dumbbell to its highest point, the tension is at its strongest because you are pulling against gravity. However, as you retract your motion during the rep, the tension dies down.
One benefit of using cables for exercising back muscles is that you can keep the tension at its peak the whole time you’re performing the rep. This’ll keep your back on fire throughout the entire rep, working every muscle equally. This makes cable machine back exercises ideal for people wanting to target lagging muscle groups that haven’t been getting enough lifting time.
No Spotter Necessary
“Excuse me - can you give me a spot?” It’s a potentially awkward question if you don’t know anyone at the gym. Yet, they always say to work till failure on your working sets, right? If you don’t have a gym buddy there to spot you the moment you can’t lift the barbell, that’s obviously not ideal or safe. The same goes for if you’re holding heavy dumbbells in your hands but can’t lift them to start the exercise without a spotter.
Back workouts on cable machines prevent this hassle. The only caveat is: just make sure you’re out of the way if you let the cable apparatus go due to failure!
8 Cable Back Workouts to Give You an Iron-Clad Spine
Okay, now that we’ve established why cable back workouts might be a great choice for you, let’s break down 8 of my go-to’s!
1. Cable Face Pulls
How to Perform a Cable Face Pull:
- Set your cable pulley to a high position.
- Fasten a rope handle to the cable.
- Grip the ropes with an overhand position.
- Position yourself one or two steps back.
- Pull the rope towards your face; keep elbows high during this motion, squeezing shoulder blades together.
- Return to the starting position with a slow, controlled movement.
Benefits of Adding Face Pulls Into Your Cable Back Workout Routine:
This exercise works the posterior deltoids, rotator cuff, traps, and lateral deltoids. This is a great move for improving your posture, which impacts long-term back health. Additionally, it’ll reduce all that tension from work and good ol’ “technology hunch” from your phone and computer that likes to hang out in your shoulders and upper back.
2. Lat Pulldown
How to Perform a Lat Pulldown:
- Sit on a bench or on a built-in seat at a cable station.
- Attach a long bar to the overhead pulley at its highest position.
- Grasp the bar with a wide, overhand grip.
- Pull the bar down until it’s level with your chin and your elbows can’t go down anymore. Keep your torso still and feet flat on the floor as you perform this motion. Make sure your shoulder blades squeeze together.
- Gradually let the bar return to its original position, lifting your arms slowly.
Benefits of Adding Lat Pulldowns Into Your Cable Back Workout Routine:
Lat pulldowns target the latissimus dorsi muscles–large muscles in the upper back. By strengthening these bad boys, you’ll find an improved posture as well as more shoulder mobility, ultimately helping reduce tension in your upper back.
3. Cable Straight-Arm Pulldown
How to Perform a Cable Straight-Arm Pulldown:
- You’ll need a rope handle or a wide-grip straight bar handle for this variation. Attach it to a high pulley at a cable station.
- Face the cable station, using an overhand grasp on each end of the rope.
- Bring your shoulder blades together and down, puffing your chest in the process.
- Lean forward slightly, hinging your hips.
- Pull the rope or bar to your thigh, making sure to contract your lats.
- Slowly bring the rope or bar back to the starting position.
Benefits of Adding Straight-Arm Pulldowns Into Your Cable Back Workout Routine:
Just like the lat pulldowns, cable straight-arm pulldowns are a great move to add to your cable back workout routine for improved posture, shoulder mobility, and getting those super defined lats that’ll get you looking sculpted and strong.
4. Seated Cable Row
How to Perform a Seated Cable Row:
- Find a seated row machine, and attach a close-grip bar or a V-bar.
- Using a neutral grip with your palms facing in, grasp the bar. Keep your legs slightly bent and your back straight for this exercise.
- Pull the handle in towards your stomach, squeezing shoulder blades together, so your back is getting a full flex.
- Slowly return the bar to the original starting position.
Benefits of Adding Seated Cable Rows Into Your Cable Back Workout Routine:
This cable back workout in particular is a low-risk-for-injury exercise. Its low-impact, controlled motion makes it a safe option for people concerned about back injury. I like this one because the motion you perform during this move is similar to daily activities I would normally do, such as lifting, pulling, and carrying, so I know it’s going to provide me extra strength to help me perform these daily tasks.
5. Single-Arm Cable Row
How to Perform a Single-Arm Cable Row:
- This is just like a regular seated cable row but using one arm at a time. Find a D-handle to attach to a pulley at a seated cable station.
- Start with your weaker arm, so you have a good idea of what max reps you’re capable of doing. With one arm, using a neutral grip with your palm facing in, grasp the D-handle. Keep your legs slightly bent and your back straight for this exercise.
- Pull your elbow towards the side of your hip, keeping your elbow close to your body. Contract your back muscles as you perform this motion.
- Slowly return the D-handle to the original starting position.
- Repeat with your stronger arm, matching the reps.
Benefits of Adding Single-Arm Cable Rows Into Your Cable Back Workout Routine:
This cable back workout exercise targets the muscles of the upper back, including latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, and trapezius. I like adding this exercise into my routine when I feel like I want to isolate each side of my back independently, making sure each side is balanced in strength and flexibility. I’ll switch it up every few months from the regular cable row to a single-arm cable row–just to optimize full back strength.
6. Cable Pull-Throughs
How to Perform a Cable Pull-Through:
- Attach a rope handle to a cable machine at the lowest pulley setting.
- Face away from the pulley machine.
- Grip the rope attachment between your legs, using an overhand position.
- Stand far enough away from the cable machine, so you feel a tension on the cable.
- Knees should have a slight bend to them, and legs should be wider than shoulder-width in their stance.
- Keeping a neutral spine, bend at the waist and push your hips back towards the machine until you feel a good hamstring stretch.
- Then, reverse the motion by squeezing and activating the glutes, pulling the rope up with you in the process.
Benefits of Adding Cable Pull-Throughs Into Your Cable Back Workout Routine:
This exercise is great because it can directly relieve lower back pain as it works your glutes and hamstrings promoting hip-hinge flexibility! It also engages the erector spinae muscles, which run along the length of the spine and help provide stability and support, potentially preventing back pain.
7. Cable Deadlifts
How to Perform a Cable Deadlift:
- Use D-handles on two cable pulleys at their lowest settings.
- Face away from the cable tower.
- Make sure your legs are shoulder-width apart.
- Squat down and grab the two D-handles.
- Extend your legs back up, pushing through your feet, keeping your back flat, and lifting the cables with your arms extended.
- Drive through your hips until you are standing upright.
- Bend your knees to squat down low again, keeping your back flat while you repeat the motion.
Benefits of Adding Cable Deadlifts Into Your Cable Back Workout Routine:
Let’s face it: traditional deadlifts can lead to injury pretty quickly if you’re not using the proper form. Using cables for a deadlift can be the most forgiving of the deadlift exercises, so this is a great option for a beginner or also for someone concerned about injuring their back. This move will have your glutes on fire while simultaneously activating your hamstrings, lower back, quads, and upper back.
8. Cable Pallof Press
How to Perform a Pallof Press:
- Set a cable machine pulley to chest height, attaching a D-handle.
- Grasp the handle with both hands.
- Then, move to the side until you feel tension on the cable.
- Keep your shoulders square, and hold the D-handle out in front of your chest.
- Extending your arms, press the cable straight out in front of your body.
- Pause, then return to the starting position.
Benefits of Adding Pallof Presses Into Your Cable Back Workout Routine:
You’ll feel this one in your abs, and it’s the core strength here–particularly the strengthening of your torso and lumbar spine–that’ll ultimately help with some lower back pain. The resistance from the cable requires your core to activate and work to prevent your torso from rotating, making this an anti-rotational movement. This type of movement is key in stabilizing your back during movements that involve twisting or lifting.
Try Pairing Your Cable Back Workout Routine with a little Self-Care
Coupling intense workout routines with a little self-care can go a long way. Whether for you, that means chiropractics, physical therapy, massage, or a combination of all three, why not give yourself access to a home recovery tool that pairs perfectly with your new cable back workout routine?
The QL Claw is designed to be exactly that. Imagine coming home from a tough workout–one of those workouts where you can already feel the soreness in your back and potential muscle tightness. What if you didn’t have to leave your home to get relief from that tightness or discomfort? The QL Claw is an at-home muscle release device and back and hip massager. The best part is: all you have to do is lie down on it…exhale…and you can unwind your tight muscles in minutes.
If you’re ready to spruce up your post-workout recovery and self-care routine, check out our online store HERE.
Now that you've read about cable back workouts, it's time to Unleash Shoulders of Steel With the Face Pull: Muscles Worked and Variations!